BERLIN — May is national Skin Cancer Awareness month and with the summer season fast approaching, Worcester County health care officials and Ocean City Beach Patrol representatives are urging residents and visitors alike to protect themselves.
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation (SCF), 13 million Americans have a history of non-melanoma skin cancer and close to 800,000 have a history of melanoma, which the foundation stresses is “the most dangerous form of skin cancer.”
“About 90 percent of non-melanoma skin cancers and 65 percent of melanoma cases are associated with exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun,” said Perry Robins, MD, President of The Skin Cancer Foundation (SCF). “Everyone, regardless of skin color, should make staying safe in the sun a priority and incorporate sun protection measures into their daily life.”
The SCF also notes that one-in-five Americans will develop some form of skin cancer in their lifetimes and that anyone in any age group is susceptible. However, because skin cancer is a “lifestyle disease,” the SCF asserts that it is “highly preventable.”
Ocean City Beach Patrol (OCBP) Captain Butch Arbin agreed and explained that simple preventative measures drastically cut the likelihood one will develop skin cancer.
“The number one thing is people need to limit their exposure,” said Arbin.
He explained that, while one sunburn may not seem like anything serious, they tend to add up.
“It’s cumulative…lifetime exposure is a part of it,” Arbin remarked.
During the beach season, which typically stretches from May through September, tens of thousands of visitors hit Ocean City’s shore. Arbin gives them the same advice that he gives the members of his beach patrol: cover up, don’t rely solely on sunscreen, and don’t assume you can get away with less on a cloudy day.
The first, simplest tip from Arbin is to cut back on the time spent directly in the sun. This can be done either through wearing covering clothing including long-sleeves and hats, finding shade, or going inside during times when harmful UV rays from the sun are strongest.
“A midday sun is the worst…the most damaging rays are midday,” he said.
For those who can’t get inside however, like members of Arbin’s beach patrol, sunscreen is the most reliable option. However, Arbin warned not to put too much faith in a bottle, no matter how impressive the pedigree on the label.
“There is no such thing as a really waterproof sunscreen,” he said. “I wouldn’t count on any SPF sunscreen that’s over 30.”
The sunscreen industry itself is in the process of recognizing that a bigger number doesn’t necessarily mean more protection, according to Twila Fykes, a cancer specialist with the Worcester County Health Department. As of this June, Fykes explained that sunscreen won’t be able to promise anything over 50 SPF on the bottle, since research hasn’t been able to prove that any number larger than that actually provides more protection.
Sunscreen will also have to be more realistic in its promises for consistency during active use.
“Labels will no longer say ‘waterproof or sweat proof,’” said Fykes.
Instead, she continued, they will only be able to claim to be water or sweat “resistant.”
While people outdoors may be better prepared because of the sunscreen changes, Fykes warned that indoor tanning is a real safety concern.
“Recently [skin cancer rates] have been on the rise,” she said, attributing at least part of the problem to the explosion in popularity of the tanning industry.
“It’s more socially acceptable to have a tan…They just think a tan really gives a healthy glow,” she said.
However, Fykes asserted that there is no such thing as “a healthy tan” and that repeated exposure to the UV light in tanning beds leads to long-term skin cancer risks.
Back outside, Fykes noted that the depletion of the ozone layer and, culturally, the decision to take a less-is-more approach to beachwear also likely plays a part in the rise of skin cancer rates.
Both Arbin and Fykes stress a commonsense approach to skin care including re-applying sunscreen regularly throughout the day, avoiding over-exposure to UV light whenever possible, and getting routine skin examinations by a doctor.
Arbin also reminded parents that even if they’re not at the beach, as long as their kids are outside they should be wearing sunscreen, including during overcast weather.
“Sunburn occurs even on cloudy days,” he said.
Beyond preventative care, residents of Worcester County can receive free skin exams courtesy of Atlantic General Hospital throughout May, in response to national Skin Cancer Awareness month.
Examinations are available on Wednesday, May 23, from 4-7 p.m. at Rite Aid, Atlantic Immedicare in Millsboro, Del.
No pre-registration is required. For more information, contact Dawn Denton 410-641-9268